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Why are healthy agers so hard to catch?

Article-Why are healthy agers so hard to catch?

Healthy older woman and man exercising
Understanding the myriad factors consumers must balance when considering ‘healthy ageing’ is the way to develop effective products and communication strategies.

Healthy ageing has been a buzzword and a tempting market for a long time in the nutrition industry. It’s seen as a growing demographic segment comparable with infant nutrition and, as such, an easy target. But more than one company has seen their ambitions and their products fail. So why is the Healthy Ager so hard to catch?

The Asian wisdom

Technically, it should be: “Why are the healthy agers so hard to catch … in the west?” Asian agers have a healthy relationship to growing older. They often take on the traditional role of grandparents and thus the later years are seen as an active and important time. As they tend to have limited access to health care, illness and the realities of ageing can have financial consequences so Asian agers are known for being highly informed consumers who take a holistic approach to their health which combines supplementation, activity and a very careful diet based on the traditional Asian idea that “food is thy medicine.” Asian agers welcome the mention of age on pack and visuals of older people they can identify with and they prefer functional information. [Click here for a free report from The HMT on Healthy Agers and How They Do Health.]

Western denial of age & praise of youth

To fully understand the difference in how we view age, we must understand the evolution of our societies. In the agricultural society, tradition and religion played an important role and the elders were the guardians of traditions and the source of knowledge handed down by generations as to when to sow and when to harvest for best yield. So old knowledge was not only good, it was vital for survival.

Compare this with the industrial society where new is better. Old is rejected and out of fashion. Old knowledge is out of date. Enter the digital era and this fact is accelerated. As workforce you are retired and no longer expected to work. Add to this the development of modern welfare institutions such as kindergartens and health care, and the active role of elderly in family or society is no longer needed. So, agers in West are separated from society; they are put in institutions if they are in poor health or simply poor. If they are in good health with a good pension, they move to a “kids free” environment in a gated community where they can hang out with likeminded people and share memories of their glory days—when they were young.

Gender roles are changing with age—especially for women

The shift in the way we view age is seen most clearly with women and their role in family and society. Women who view menopause as an entry to the granny stage can devote their lives to being a traditional granny and a supporting extension of their children’s family. They no longer have a sexual role. No need to be attractive to the opposite sex because their role is with the extended family.

Compare this with the western women who chose to stay in the mating game. They may see Jane Fonda as their generational role model and buy in to AgePerfect products from L’Oréal. They may be inspired by the aspirational movies with ”Celebrity Agers” like Dianne Keaton and Jack Nicholson, or Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin, in which new love and sexuality is still a possibility. Hence a report from Sweden last year defined 70-year-olds as the new 20-year-olds. Time to have fun again!

The nutritional conflict: Nutrition vs looks

It is necessary to change the diet with older age, and the appetite may be smaller. So, the need is for more nutrient dense foods with more proteins and fat. And what’s more—it’s positive to gain a little in weight if you’re slim. Well try to bring that message across to the woman who has grown up with Jane Fonda as her role model. Gain weight? More fat in diet?? Forget it!

The labeling conflict: Psychology vs demographics

So if the Asian healthy ager proudly wears her age and buys an Anlene Gold (Gold for Old Age) product to prevent osteoporosis, the same wouldn't be true for her western sister. She would shy away from a product that defined her age or labelled her as old or retired. You don’t label yourself unless it’s part of your personal profile. You can be a vegan, a golfer, a dog lover—but never a ‘healthy ager.’ What you see in the mirror is not your image—it’s your self-image. So, to target western healthy agers with the same rational model to target infants will not work. You must target the need. Not the age.

Segmenting based on needs & aspirations—not age

In our work with concept development and brand positioning for older demographics across the globe, we use the FourFactors® consumer segmentation that defines consumers based on their attitude to health and openness to change.

The first segment is those who are condition driven. That means they are seeking a solution for a health condition. The remedy can be dietary or medical but the key to understanding their motivation is that this is a health problem they must solve. They will search for expert advice and expert brands for their condition.

The second segment is the early adopters. No matter the age they are the trend setters and most often influencers for their peers. To bring a new idea to the market, this is where you must start. They will try out new exciting products, diets, exercise routines or places that attract their ego and they will for sure share their aspirational experience with their friends and followers.

Next, the third segment is the first followers. They represent the early mass market who pick up new ideas when they start to be accessible in a more convenient and affordable way. It must still be aspirational and premium as an everyday luxury but a safe choice from a trusted brand.

Finally, the fourth segment is the late followers. They represent the late mass market and they are last to adapt changes as they are traditionalists who do not look for new ideas but find it safer to stick with what they have always done and what their neighbours will accept. They will not buy into a new idea until it has become the new normal. This is the place for trusted household brands to slowly bring new ideas from the early mass market to its loyal consumers.

To gain more knowledge into the opportunity in the healthy ageing market, particularly the crossover potential for personalised nutrition and healthy ageing, join Peter at the Vitafoods Insights Virtual Expo on Thursday 13 May at 9:30am BST.

Learn more and register for free to attend the Vitafoods Insights Virtual Expo.


Peter Wennström is the founder and senior strategy consultant – global at The Healthy Marketing Team (HMT). With over 25 years of experience in international brand management and consultancy in nutrition, health, and wellness, he set up HMT in 2007 with the mission to bring healthier brands and healthier business to its customers in the global nutrition industry. He is regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in food and health marketing. He has authored several books and industry guides on the subject, including the latest FourFactors® for Growth Market Success book with the combined experiences of HMT’s senior consultants.

TAGS: Trends